The key talking points and observations from Blackpool's pre-season friendly win at Carlisle
After a week of disruption, Blackpool got their pre-season plans back on track with a 1-0 friendly win against Carlisle United yesterday.
Demetri Mitchell's first-half effort was the difference, the winger continuing his fine form with yet another goal.
Here, The Gazette’s Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton takes a look at some of the key talking points from Saturday's encounter at Brunton Park...
Best laid plans
Despite being absolutely ravaged by Covid, the Seasiders were still able to put out a strong starting line-up at Brunton Park yesterday. By my calculations, Neil Critchley was without 16 first-team players on Saturday - not all due to Covid, admittedly. Some were down to injuries and Bez Lubala down to a ‘club matter’. But nevertheless, that’s far from an ideal situation to be with the league campaign getting underway in just two weeks. Knowing how Critchley operates and how he likes to prepare, I can only imagine his frustration at not having all squad members, and key ones, at that, available to him for a whole week. How can you work on patterns of play through the central midfield area, for example, when you don’t have Kevin Stewart or Kenny Dougall - the two players most likely to start - out on the training pitch? For those wondering, here’s the full list of players not at Brunton Park yesterday for one reason or another: Daniel Grimshaw, Stuart Moore, Oliver Casey, Daniel Gretarsson, Teddy Howe, Reece James, Jordan Thorniley, Cameron Antwi, Josh Bowler, Kenny Dougall, Kevin Stewart, Matty Virtue, Bez Lubala, Shayne Lavery, Gary Madine and Joe Nuttall. The fact Pool are still able to perform to a high level with so many players absent just goes to show how impressive their strength in depth is. Let’s not forget, the last time the Seasiders were preparing to line up in the Championship, they only had nine registered players on the morning of their opening league game...
The flying winger
That’s three in three now for Demetri Mitchell. The 24-year-old is absolutely flying at the moment and has been Blackpool’s standout performer in pre-season by some way. It shouldn’t surprise us though, Mitchell ended last season in excellent form too, so this is merely a continuation of those eye-catching performances. In fact, I do recall feeling sympathy for Mitchell in April and May, given the impressive nature of his displays. Yet he’d often find himself on the bench for the big games, limited to short cameos here and there. Such was Blackpool’s strength in depth, and given the form of Keshi Anderson, Elliot Embleton and others, that’s just the way it goes sometimes. But I distinctly remember James Husband picking out Mitchell for praise after Pool’s last game of the regular season, the home win against Bristol Rovers. Husband was impressed with the way Mitchell kept his head down, knuckled down in training and worked even harder to prove himself. It appears that hard work is now beginning to pay off, and long may it continue. A quick word on Mitchell's goal, too. He finished it with aplomb, showing calmness and composure to slot beyond the Carlisle keeper. But he had plenty to do when he collected the ball near the halfway line, nipping the ball past a defender before skipping another desperate lunge. It was an excellent solo effort.
Trusting in youth
Because of Blackpool’s Covid situation, it leaves Neil Critchley with just one recognised fit and available specialist central midfielder in Grant. While Callum Connolly played there in the second-half, he’s a defender by trade and has been identified as a right-back for the Seasiders. So it was left to young Tayt Trusty to show what he can do. The second-year scholar was thrown into Blackpool’s starting line-up but he did himself no harm whatsoever. In fact, he didn’t look out of place at all. The teenager was comfortable on the ball, he was willing to take ownership and possession under pressure and he clearly has an eye for a pass. While Critchley hopes to have some players back for Tuesday’s friendly against Premier League side Burnley, chances are he’ll still be light in central midfield. What an opportunity it would be for Trusty to test himself against top flight opposition. Late on, we saw plenty of other youngsters come off the bench as Critchley made wholesale changes on 65 minutes. Ewan Bange was here, there and everywhere and combined well with Brad Holmes and others. Luke Mariette also looked strong and combative in the centre of the park.
Running the rule
I know the trialist family and Blackpool have a bit of a chequered history, but we all love it when a mystery player turns up, don’t we? It adds a bit of intrigue and excitement to what are, let’s face it, fairly dull and anodyne pre-season friendly games. Not many were expecting to see a trialist at Brunton Park on Saturday, so imagine our pleasant surprise when one was named among the subs. Judging by Neil Critchley’s post-match comments, the previously anonymous footballer is current Leicester City defender Mitch Clark, who came through the youth ranks and has previously had loan spells with Port Vale. The 22-year-old looked solid enough, but it was hard to make too much of a judgement. I suspect Critchley probably saw more of him in training leading up to Saturday’s game at Brunton Park than he did during his second-half cameo. The Wales Under-19 international made some bright forward runs and linked up well with both CJ Hamilton and Demetri Mitchell, who were constantly swapping flanks. He did produce a stray backpass to Chris Maxwell though, before committing a needless foul late on just a few yards outside Blackpool’s box.
This might be a bit of a niche one, but bear with me. The Seasiders have clearly been working on a number of things in training, as the way they lined up and structured their build-up play was noticeably different at Brunton Park to what we saw last season. One thing I picked up on in particular was the regularity in which the forward men, but Demetri Mitchell and Keshi Anderson in particular, would come in from the flank into more central areas when the defenders had the ball and were looking to play out from the back. The Carlisle defence didn’t know whether to go with him, and risk creating space in behind, or back off and allow Mitchell to control the ball and turn at goal, another risky move given the quality of the winger’s direct runs. This caused Carlisle all sorts of problems and proved to be a major part of Blackpool’s build-up play. It resulted in plenty of opportunities, too, but too often Pool let themselves down with their final ball. Nevertheless, it’s clearly a tactic Critchley has identified as a potential source of success in the Championship this coming season. Chances are, the Seasiders won’t see as much of the ball as they previously did in League One, so picking up the ball in pockets and getting the wingers to fly in behind could prove crucial in creating clear-cut goalscoring opportunities.
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